Both Mississippi State and Memphis come into this one off of impressive wins, but for different reasons. The Bulldogs took down NC State with a squashing 24-10 win in front of a ton of cowbells. The Tigers went on the road and piled up a country mile worth of offense but still had to hold on for dear life in notching a 55-50 win at Arkansas State.
Amazingly, MSU is a hearty 33-1 in their 34-game history of facing off with the Tigers. The last meeting in the series came way back in 2011 when the Dogs beat the boys from Elvis-town 59-14. Rest assured, there won't be a repeat of that here.
This is a really solid Power 5 vs. Group of 5 showdown.
Mississippi State at Memphis
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Mississippi State -3
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
It usually takes an offseason or two for the Air Raid offense to really start to click. Mike Leach has seen his charges sputter from time to time already this season. In the first quarter vs. NC State, the Bulldogs gathered just five total yards. But things started to crank up after that, and they are starting to show promise here. Quarterback Will Rogers got better and better against the Wolfpack and now finds himself as the SEC leader in passing yards with 664 while completing 75 percent of his attempts.
With Memphis giving up 50 points to a team like Arkansas State, it is obvious that the wart on the nose for the Tigers is the defense. On top of all those points, Memphis coughed up 582 passing yards and 680 total yards to the Red Wolves from the Sun Belt. Leach has to be licking his chops to get Rogers and his cohorts out there to pile up yards and points.
In the first two games of the season, kickoff returner Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin has sparked the Bulldogs to victory. In Week 1 against Louisiana Tech, his 70-yard return ignited the comeback. In Week 2, Griffin got the home crowd going nutso right off the bat with a 100-yard kickoff return to start the game. On top of that, punt returners Austin Williams and Jaden Walley had a couple of good punt returns as well. So Mississippi State's special teams play could be a huge factor once again if the Tigers are dumb enough to give these guys a chance at a big return.
When Memphis Has the Ball
The best way to describe Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan is youthful but dangerous. The precocious freshman has been quite the enigma, throwing for 417 yards and five touchdowns. And most importantly, he looked poised and decisive despite his newbie status. His connections with Calvin Austin III (6 rec., 239 yds., 3 TDs) and Sean Dykes (9, 143, 2) became a big development last week. The onus is going to fall on the success of Mississippi State cornerbacks Martin Emerson and Emmanuel Forbes, who are part of a secondary that returned intact from last season.
Another freshman who has made real headlines for Memphis is running back Brandon Thomas, who has a pair of 100-yard games, including 191 on just 18 carries against Arkansas State. His big-play potential has been a welcome addition to this running game, as he had two TD runs of 70-plus yards last week. Of course, the job gets much tougher this week, but if the Memphis O-line can forge some running lanes and Thomas can make this a two-dimensional offense, that will be huge.
That Bulldog defense played a really solid game against NC State, not allowing the Wolfpack to reach MSU territory at all in the second and third quarters and also shutting them down on the ground. But this will be a much different animal, to say the least. The one thing that MSU will hope to do is disguise some blitzes and create confusion. Against NC State, the Bulldogs utilized a ton of pre-snap movement along the front seven, which helped them collect nine tackles for a loss, four sacks, and five QB hurries.
This is a classic trap-door game for the Bulldogs, coming off a solid win over a Power 5 team and then facing off with rival LSU next week. Make no mistake, this is a very capable Memphis team that is playing at home. So this won't be an easy game. And I didn't mention it above, but keep in mind that the Bulldogs have committed 21 penalties in their two games while the Tigers have yet to turn the ball over in their two contests. If that pattern continues, this one could get very dicey for the Bulldogs.
Face it, Mississippi State's defense has been hot. But that Memphis offense doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon, especially with the home crowd behind the Tigers.
Prediction: Memphis 45, Mississippi State 42
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— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.